Posted: Sat Nov 08, 2008 6:10 pm Post subject: Ancient Egypt
Mystery of the screaming mummy It was a blood-curdling discovery. The mummy of a young man with his hands and feed bound, his face contorted in an eternal scream of pain. But who was he and how did he die?
By Kathryn Knight
10th November 2008
On a scorching hot day at the end of June 1886, Gaston Maspero, head of the Egyptian Antiquities Service, was unwrapping the mummies of the 40 kings and queens found a few years earlier in an astonishing hidden cache near the Valley of the Kings. The 1881 discovery of the tombs, in the Deir El Bahri valley, 300 miles south of Cairo, had been astonishing and plentiful. Hidden from the world for centuries were some of the great Egyptian pharaohs - Rameses the Great, Seti I and Tuthmosis III. Yet this body, buried alongside them, was different, entombed inside a plain, undecorated coffin that offered no clues to the deceased's identity.
It was an unexpected puzzle and, once the coffin was opened, Maspero found himself even more shocked. There, wrapped in a sheep or goatskin - a ritually unclean object for ancient Egyptians - lay the body of a young man, his face locked in an eternal blood-curdling scream. It was a spine-tingling sight, and one that posed even more troubling questions: here was a mummy, carefully preserved, yet caught in the moment of death in apparently excrutiating pain.
He had been buried in exalted company, yet been left without an inscription, ensuring he would be consigned to eternal damnation, as the ancient Egyptians believed identity was the key to entering the afterlife. Moreover, his hands and feet had been so tightly bound that marks still remained on the bones. Who could he be, this screaming man, assigned the anonymous label 'Man E' in the absence of a proper name?
An autopsy, performed by physicians in 1886 in the presence of Maspero, did little to shed any light on the subject. One of the physicians, Daniel Fouquet, believed the contracted shape of his stomach cavity showed he had been poisoned, writing in his report that 'the last convulsions of horrid agony can, after thousands of years, still be seen' - yet his science was unable to help him ascertain why.
Even marrying these findings with historical documents only allowed experts to speculate. Some believed 'Man E' was the traitor son of Rameses III, who'd been involved in a coup to remove him from the throne, others that he was an Egyptian governor who had died abroad and been returned to his homeland for burial. Some believed the unconventional manner of his mummification showed that he was not Egyptian at all, but a member of a rival Hittite dynasty, who had died on Egyptian soil.
Hidden from the world for centuries, buried beneath the vast desert sands, the magnificent Deir El Bahri templre (pictured) where Man E, the 'screaming mummy', was discovered
All explanations were possible, yet Man E's true identity seemed destined to remain a mystery.As Dr Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities, puts it, 'We'd never seen a mummy like this, suffering. It's not normal, and it tells us something happened, but we did not know exactly what.'
Until now. Today, nearly 130 years after his body was first uncovered, a team of scientists has brought the wonders of modern forensic techniques to bear on the enigma. Using sophisticated-technology, including CT scanning, Xrays and facial reconstruction, to examine the mummy, they uncovered tantalising new clues that could reveal his identity, all under the watchful eye of Five's TV crew, who are making a series of documentaries hoping to unravel some of Egypt's great secrets.
Their findings suggest that Man E is indeed Prince Pentewere, elder son of Rameses III, who, with his mother, Tiy, had evolved a plan to assassinate the pharaoh and ascend to the throne. Certainly, the theory has a number of supporters. Among them is Dr Susan Redford, an Egyptologist from Pennsylvania State University, who points out that an ancient papyrus scroll details a plot by Tiy to dethrone Rameses III in favour of their son, even though he was not the nominated heir.
The plot was apparently supported by a number of high level courtiers, suggesting that they felt Pentewere had a legitimate claim, even though the accession was usually thought to be divinely ordained.
A wall painting of pharoah Rameses III. The pharoah faced plots by his elder son Prince Pentewere and wife Tiy to dethrone him. Some believe that Man E is Prince Pentewere
'The scroll tells us that the coup was very quickly discovered and the plotters brought to trial,' she explained. 'They were sentenced to death, but the papyrus also tells us that Pentewere was spared this fate. Perhaps because of his royal status he was allowed to commit suicide.' He would almost certainly have done so, she says, by drinking poison. Yet other findings from the 1886 postmortem seemed to dispute the body might be that of Pentewere. It suggested that Man E had been buried with his internal organs intact, which was extraordinarily unusual, even for a traitor, and a boost to theories that the body had been mummified elsewhere at the time - or had not even been Egyptian at all.
Some academics believed that the body may have been that of a rival Hittite prince, basing their theory on a letter written by Tutankhamun's widow Ankhesenamun. The pharaoh died without leaving an heir and, in her letter, his wife had appealed to the then King of the Hittites that he allow her to marry one of his sons, who would become king and ensure her own continuing power.
Man E, some academics believed, was just such a prince, one who had travelled to Egypt to meet with his new bride and befallen a cruel and murderous fate. Yet today's forensic findings seemed to dispute this theory: a modern 3D scan showed the mummy had been completely eviscerated, as was customary for important Egyptians. Moreover, new analysis of the condition of his joints and teeth also appeared to overturn earlier theories as to the mummy's age at the time of death: Fouquet had believed him to be in his early 20s, too young for Pentewere. Now, it seemed, he could have been anywhere up to the age of 40, consistent again with Rameses' son.
Equally revealing was a full facial reconstruction. Using modern forensic techniques, a 3D image of Man E's skull was created, revealing what would have been a strong and handsome face, with a prominent nose and long jaw - features which do not correlate with a Hittite background. Egyptians had a long lower face and an extended cranium from the forehead to the back of the head, as did Man E, suggesting he's a ancient Egyptian. There are, of course, still anomalies - the sheepskin covering, the unorthodox way the body was preserved without a name.
The passing of the centuries has ensured that some of the Screaming Man's secrets are destined to remain unsolved, and as Dylan Bickerstaffe, an eminent Egyptologist, puts it, 'With some questions we found the answers to be more ordinary than we thought,' he says. 'But we've also answered others and found the answers to be much stranger.'
It is certainly enough to convince Dr Hawass, who now believes that this most enduring of Egyptian mysteries has been solved. 'It seems to me this man has been sitting in the Cairo Museum waiting for someone to identify him,' he says. 'Now I really do believe that this unknown man is not unknown any more.'
Threshold to Cleopatra's mausoleum discovered off Alexandria coast Threshold to massive door found off Alexandria, Queen's mausoleum part of sunken palace complex
Helena Smith in Athens
23 December 2009
They were one of the world's most famous couples, who lived lives of power and glory – but who spent their last hours in despair and confusion. Now, more than 2,000 years since Antony and Cleopatra walked the earth, historians believe they may finally have solved the riddle of their last hours together.
A team of Greek marine archaeologists who have spent years conducting underwater excavations off the coast of Alexandria in Egypt have unearthed a giant granite threshold to a door that they believe was once the entrance to a magnificent mausoleum that Cleopatra VII, queen of the Egyptians, had built for herself shortly before her death.
They believe the 15-tonne antiquity would have held a seven metre-high door so heavy that it would have prevented the queen from consoling her Roman lover before he died, reputedly in 30BC. "As soon as I saw it, I thought we are in the presence of a very special piece of a very special door," Harry Tzalas, the historian who heads the Greek mission, said. "There was no way that such a heavy piece, with fittings for double hinges and double doors, could have moved with the waves so there was no doubt in my mind that it belonged to the mausoleum. Like Macedonian tomb doors, when it closed, it closed for good." Tzalas believes the discovery of the threshold sheds new light on an element of the couple's dying hours which has long eluded historians.
In the first century AD the Greek historian Plutarch wrote that Mark Antony, after being wrongly informed that Cleopatra had killed herself, had tried to take his own life. When the dying general expressed his wish to pass away alongside his mistress, who was hiding inside the mausoleum with her ladies-in-waiting, he was "hoisted with chains and ropes" to the building's upper floor so that he could be brought in to the building through a window.
Plutarch wrote, "when closed the [mausoleum's] door mechanism could not open again". The discovery in the Mediterranean Sea of such huge pieces of masonry at the entrance to what is believed to be the mausoleum would explain the historian's line. Tzalas said: "For years, archaeologists have wondered what Plutarch, a very reliable historian, meant by that. And now, finally, I think we have the answer. "Allowing a dying man to be hoisted on ropes was not a very nice, or comforting thing to do, but Cleopatra couldn't do otherwise. She was there only with females and they simply couldn't open such a heavy door."
The threshold, part of the sunken palace complex in which Cleopatra is believed to have died, was discovered recently at a depth of eight metres but only revealed this week. It has yet to be brought to the surface. The archaeologists have also recovered a nine-tonne granite block which they believe formed part of a portico belonging to the adjoining temple of Isis Lochias. "We believe it was part of the complex surrounding Cleopatra's palace," said Zahi Hawas, Egypt's top archaeologist. "This is an important part of Alexandria's history and brings us closer to knowing more about the ancient city."
According to Plutarch, who based his accounts largely on eyewitness testimonies, Antony died within seconds of laying eyes on his beloved queen and mother of his children. Cleopatra, the most powerful woman of her day and Egypt's most fabled ruler, is believed to have taken her own life just days later, legend has it with the aid of an asp.
King Tutankhamun: Plagued By Poor Health
February 16, 2010
Sky News Online
The famous Egyptian King Tutankhamun suffered from a debilitating range of health problems, and eventually died from malaria, according to the most extensive study yet of his mummy. The young ruler had a cleft palate, a club foot, and died after complications from a broken leg were exacerbated by brain malaria.
It had previously been thought that he was murdered due to a hole in his skull, but researchers found this was part of the mummification process. Two years of DNA testing and CT scans on 16 mummies have led to the findings which have been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Researchers also believe they have found the clearest family tree yet for Tut. They say his father is most likely to be Akhenaten, the pharoah who tried to revolutionise ancient Egyptian religion to worship one god, and his mother is one of Akhenaten's sisters.
Tut, who became pharaoh at the age of 10 in 1333 BC, ruled for just nine years at a pivotal time in Egypt's history. Although he was a comparatively minor king, the discovery in 1922 of his tomb and its stunning artifacts, made him famous across the world. The studies also disproved speculation that Tutankhamun and members of his family suffered from rare disorders that gave them feminine attributes and misshapen bones.
The theories arose from the artistic style and statues of the period, which showed the royal men with prominent breasts, elongated heads and flared hips.
Cleopatra death caused by drugs not asp bite, historian claims
29 Jun 10
According to legend, iconic Egyptian queen Cleopatra killed herself with an asp bite, but a team of German historians now believe she used a deadly drug cocktail of opium and hemlock instead.
The last Egyptian pharaoh, Cleopatra VII committed suicide in 30 BC. The tradition goes that she intentionally suffered a snake bite from what is now known as the Egyptian cobra. But German historian and professor at the University of Trier Christoph Schäfer presents evidence to disprove the 2,000-year-old legend on ZDF’s educational show Abenteuer Wissenschaft to be broadcast on Wednesday.
In a preview of the show, Schäfer alleges that certain parts of the legend don’t fit. In his assessment, the queen, famous for her beauty, was unlikely to have subjected herself to a long and disfiguring death. He and other experts travelled to Alexandria where they consulted ancient medical texts and cobra experts, who said that the serpent bits cause a brutal death that covers the body in spots and takes several days.
Cleopatra wanted to remain beautiful in her death to maintain her myth, the show claims, citing evidence that she was well-versed in the effects of poison and had several options at her disposal. Instead of a snake, she probably took a cocktail of opium, hemlock and aconitum, Schäfer claims, explaining that at the time this was a well-known mixture that led to a painless death within just a few hours.
The Book of the Dead is a collection of 200 magic spells and incantations which were believed to protect the dead person from evil and to guide him on his passage through a kingdom of the dead. Each spell was intended to be used in a specific situation the dead person might encounter on the tortuous path to eternal bliss.
The fragility of papyrus means that they can rarely be shown, but a new exhibition at the British Museum gives us the opportunity to come face to face with them.
Devourer, detail from the Book of the Dead of Ani
Thoth, the god of wisdom with the head of an ibis, stands recording the result of the weighing of souls. If the dead Egyptian’s soul was heavier than a feather, then they would be devoured by Ammut, who was one-third crocodile, one-third lion, and one third-hippopotamus.
Spell 87, Papyrus of Ani, 1275 B.C.
A spell to assume the form of a horned snake: ‘I am a horned snake, long of years, / Lying down, born every day. I am a horned snake in the limits of the earth. / I lie down; I am born; I am renewed; I bloom every day.’
Nodjmet, sunrise scene
The Egyptians associated the sun with the god Ra, who created all forms of life, and ensured that the sun was reborn every morning after his nightly journey through the realm of Osiris.
Opening the Mouth ritual, detail from the Book of the Dead of Hunefer
Anubis, the god who protected the dead, supports the mummy of Hunefer, as the dead man’s wife and daughter mourn. Three priests perform a ritual to ensure Hunefer could breathe and speak in the afterlife. Scholars have noted connections between the ceremony and Psalm 51 – ‘O Lord, open thou my lips’.
Weighing of the heart, details from the Book of the Dead of Ani, 1275 B.C.
Here an Egyptian is judged by Osiris, the god of the afterlife.
His heart is weighed against a feather belonging to Maát, goddess of truth. If his heart is lighter, he will be rewarded with eternal life; if not, he will be devoured by Ammut.
King Herihor and Queen Nodjmet adore Osiris, detail from the Book of the Dead of Nodjmet
King Herihor and Queen Nodjmet depicted as they adore Osiris, the god of the afterlife, the underworld and the dead. Before any Egyptian could enter his kingdom after his death, they would be judged before him.
The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead is at he British Museum until March 6
17 lost pyramids found by satellite Seventeen lost pyramids and more than 1,000 tombs have been found in a new satellite survey of Egypt.
17 lost pyramids found by satellite
25 May 2011
Scientists at the University of Alabama also found 3000 ancient settlements using a new technique of infra-red imaging. The astonishing results have been confirmed by archaeologists with picks and shovels, who have located two of the pyramids found from space.
"I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the 'aha' moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we'd found,' Dr Sarah Parcak told the BBC. "I couldn't believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt."
The team analysed images from satellites orbiting 400 miles above the Earth, equipped with cameras so powerful they can pinpoint objects less than a yard in diameter. Infra-red imaging was then used to highlight different materials under the surface. Because the ancient Egyptians built houses from mud brick, which is must denser than surrounding soil, they left a clear fingerprint that the researchers could identify as tombs, pyramids or homes. The technique is so powerful that it can even be used to monitor sites for looting.
And Dr Parcak believes there are many more buildings buried deeper than those already spotted – even under the River Nile. "These are just the sites close to the surface. There are many thousands of additional sites that the Nile has covered over with silt," she said. "This is just the beginning of this kind of work." The results are a huge boost for the new science of space archaeology. Dr Parcak added: "Indiana Jones is old school, we've moved on from Indy, sorry Harrison Ford."
The discovery is featured in the documentary Egypt's Lost Cities, which is broadcast on BBC ONE on May 30.
Brilliant, I'll post that documentary when it's available...
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